Climbing as Art: Brushstrokes on the Mountain

For many years I have held the art of Andy Goldsworthy in the highest regard. Alongside other British artists like David Nash, Goldsworthy explores some of the themes of growth, decay and transition that are always in the minds of those of us who spend our lives outside in the natural world. Goldsworthy is famous for his artistic style, sometimes he will stack rocks or weave together branches or leaves, always creating beautiful sculptures and installations with the natural materials found on hand. The beauty of his pieces can certainly to be found in his deep understanding of form and colour, but also in his appreciation of those artistic fundamentals in the landscape writ large.

In this film created in conjunction with London’s Tate Gallery, Goldsworthy shows us around his studio space and explains one of his pieces which involves a melting snowball covered in a pigment created by grinding up stones and earth. The snowball is placed on a large piece of paper that is set on a very slight angle. As the snowball melts, the water (coloured by the pigment it carries with it as it melts), flows down the sheet in a stream. As Goldsworthy explains, the marks that are left by the melting snowball ARE the landscape. They are the river valleys carved out with each springs snowmelt.

In Alpinist 37 (Winter 2011-12) Denis Urubko wrote a wonderful article about his climbing career, and the experiences that have shaped his climbing philosophy . One of the memorable anecdotes he recalls, involves his being in a press conference in Italy where he explains to a room packed with journalists that for him climbing is art. He explains that his climbs, the routes, the mountains and the style he climbs in are all the culmination of years of training, strength, struggle and thought in much the same way that the great Renaissance masterpieces represented many years of training, mastery and dedication.

As long as people have been climbing they have, I am sure, been making comparisons between climbing and art. I believe it is perceptive comparison and when I see work like that being completed by Goldsworthy I am struck by the integrity of it. Goldsworthy finds unique ways of letting the landscape speak its own stories. Great and artistic climbs should do the same. They should in essence speak to the immensity and dignity of the mountains, just as they should stand as testaments to the daring and the ability of women and men to suffer and struggle to reach the high places. It’s not about ‘conquering’, but about learning to move within a landscape immense and hostile. Like the melting water, we have to find our own path.

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